A packed Pier Six Pavilion—including the usual freeloading onlookers on neighboring piers and boats—came out last Saturday to see America's greatest living rock star. His name: Nayvadius Cash, better known as Atlanta rapper Future.
Future's melodic trap-rap has little in common with guitar-based rock music, of course. And yet, as guitar music in 2015 moves ever more down crassly commercial, intimately twee, or just plain repetitive avenues, the modern rock musician has less and less to do with the archetype of "rock star." When one truly considers the rock star's place in American culture, and its idealization into a kind of mythic, self-destructive, beautiful bastard, Future—or "Future Hendrix," as he has (not coincidentally) christened himself—embodies it as well as anyone.
We picture rock stars as Keith Richards or Jim Morrison types, misanthropic white male "geniuses" covered in glitter, piss, and heroin needles. Indeed, their unfettered hedonism has been the focus of Future's recent stretch of brilliant music, as he drawls out odes to syrup, xanny bars, and molly washed down with a sticky aftertaste of champagne. These boasts are interlaced with pathos, lines revealing the depression lurking underneath: "I'm drinking Actavis / the only thing that relax me" he sighs on "56 Nights" single 'Trap Niggas.' Like a Richards or Morrison, Future's music has also been influential—see: the chart-topping sound of Fetty Wap—and his fashion sense clearly impacted the many dudes out at Pier Six in flannel and wide-brimmed black hats.
The questionable morality of Future's persona extends to his politics. "Dirty Sprite 2," Future's chart-topping album, contains the virulent strains of misogyny that have characterized his entire oeuvre, not to mention a particularly cringe-worthy use of "faggot" on 'Rotation.' And yet, Future has also recently been outspoken in his repudiations of police brutality toward black people. In the video for 'Mad Luv,' off 2014's "Monster," he wore a red "I Can't Breathe" sweater in reference to the suffocation of Eric Garner and the video for 'March Madness' cuts between Future rapping and protest footage past and present.
One of the greatest moments at Pier Six came when Future requested all the lights in the venue be turned off, and a slow, moody roll began to play over the speakers. "Moment of silence for Sandra Bland," he shouted, as thousands of minuscule iPhone lights glinted in the darkness, ". . . we doing this for Freddie Gray right now." At this point, the churning intro of 'March Madness,' which includes a verse on how "these bogus police can't touch me," began to rev up.
Much like Springsteen, Future makes grand gestures that can, when they're blasted through arena speakers, tap into our small desires to, in some way, feel like part of something bigger than just us.
But he can also set aside politics for one of the rock star's greatest tools: escapism. One of the last songs at Pier Six was Future's hit single 'Fuck Up Some Commas,' which you've probably heard on the radios or out of cars. As its atomic drop arrived, the lights came on, and the venue went ballistic with shouts of "40 thousand to 100 thousand . . . " At that moment, the greatest rock star in America stood in Baltimore, shouting about money, diamonds, and commas, letting the harbor ring loud with the turbulent power of turn-up.